Thesis Guidelines 2019-2020

The thesis is a work of substance and length – approximately 50 pages/12,500 words excluding the bibliography – requiring research that draws together ideas developed in the course of a student’s interdisciplinary studies. Students should start thinking about a topic and connect with possible faculty supervisors early in the program. With time, further course and research work and guidance from faculty will develop, improve, and likely alter the original thesis idea. Students may exceed 50 pages in their final work with the permission and support of their supervisor.

1. Proposal

Students must first submit a written proposal to a faculty supervisor (or two supervisors—see Thesis Registration and Supervisors below) who, by agreeing to be the supervisor, affirms that the topic is satisfactory, manageable, and of appropriate size. The complete proposal should include a statement of approximately 1000 words describing the topic, the nature of the resources to be used, and plans for the way in which you will approach your analysis of the topic (methodology). A brief bibliography indicating that you are aware of current work in the field.

2. Thesis Registration and Supervisors

ISCS G4999 Supervised Individual Research is the traditional method of writing the thesis as an independent study under the supervision of a faculty member (thesis supervisor). A second supervisor is optional if the guidance and advice of a second supervisor is wanted or the thesis spans different academic disciplines.

Students are responsible for finding their own faculty thesis supervisors. All supervisors must be current Columbia faculty members of a relevant department and must hold a Ph.D. or other comparable degree. If there are two supervisors, both approve the proposal and decide on the grade for the final thesis. Most academic department websites list faculty profiles and research concentrations. Students are encouraged to review faculty information to target possible supervisors and contact faculty early to discuss the thesis. 

The Middle East Institute works with the Registrar to register students for ISCS G4999 as requested on the Thesis Registration and Approval Form. The office must have the printed proposal with Thesis Registration and Approval Form attached in order to register the thesis. The first supervisor listed on the form will be listed in the registration system as the faculty responsible for the grade. 

3. Deadlines for Thesis Proposal: 

December 1st for writing in the Spring 2020 term
April 2nd for writing in the Summer 2020 term
June 1st for writing in the Fall 2020 term

The proposal may be altered after submission, with approval of the first supervisor, if research indicates that a different direction would be more productive.

No one may undertake research that involves human subjects, including interviews, surveys, or related methods, without prior review and approval or evidence of exemption from the Institutional Review Board (IRB). IRB guidelines and applications are available here.

4. Application for Degree or Certificate:
In order to be considered for a degree or certificate, all students must file an Application for Degree or Certificate by the appropriate deadline. When a deadline for application falls on a weekend or holiday, the deadline moves to the next business day. The form may be submitted electronically to

Deadline for applying to GSAS for graduation:
September 1, 2019 - Degrees conferred October 16, 2019
November 1, 2019 - Degrees conferred February 12, 2020
December 1, 2019 - Degrees conferred May 20, 2020

5. Completing and Submitting the Final Thesis

The final version of the thesis must be deposited in the Middle East Institute office before the student can be certified for graduation.

With attention to the final deadlines below, the student and the supervisor(s) must agree on their own schedule for discussions, revision, and grading of the thesis. Be sure to allow enough time for the supervisor(s) to read and grade the thesis and to make any final revisions based on their comments (recommend three to four weeks prior to the final thesis deadline). 

If minor revisions are to be made, students must make these revisions before depositing the final bound copy of the thesis in the MEI office. 

Students with major revisions required or who do not submit the final thesis by the deadline receive an incomplete grade (IN) and do not graduate. Students have one calendar year to complete an IN thesis.

Electronic copies of the thesis are also required for the Middle East Institute Thesis Database. Electronic copies may be in Word or PDF and may be submitted via email to Astrid Benedek at by the final thesis deadline.

Note: International students interested in applying for OPT after graduation should contact ISSO concerning the completion of their degree requirements and graduation. The date of your degree completion (including the thesis) may affect your OPT application. ISSO can provide further information. 

6. Physical Structure of the Paper

  • The final printed version submitted to the MEI office should be approximately 50 pages/12,500 words long excluding bibliography. Students may exceed 50 pages in their final work with permission of their supervisor(s).

  • Use good-quality paper with text printed on only one side of each page.

  • Use one standard style and size of font (ex. 12 pt. Times New Roman) throughout and double-space the text (long quotations, footnotes and bibliography may be single-spaced).

  • Choice of style manual (e.g. MLA, Chicago) is up to the student and faculty supervisor, but students should follow one method of reference and bibliographic notation throughout.

  • The title page should not be numbered, but all other pages should be sequentially numbered. Margins should be 1½ inches at the top and left sides and 1 inch at the bottom and right sides.

  • Binding and cover: the top cover must be transparent so the title page is visible; the back cover should be opaque. Binding should be strong, permanent and durable. Velobind, which uses a plastic strip and “rivets,” is the best type of binding that is easily available at most copy shops.